Scoble talked about the costs of RSS the other day. He compares the traffic costs associated with RSS readership to the costs associated with HTML readership. For the few reading who don’t know what I’m talking about: web pages that you view through a web browser are in HTML. Many weblogs (and an increasing number of news sites) publish a variation of their website in an XML file called an RSS feed. The RSS feed is designed to be subscribed to by an aggregator, a program that will periodically check the RSS feed for any new content. If there’s new content, it will download it and preserve it for later viewing by you.
Scoble points out one of the challenges inherent in the RSS model: whereas someone might visit your site once a day, their aggregator will often visit you once an hour (to see if you’ve said anything new). Over time, this disparity can add up.
I noticed this on my site as well: half of my bandwidth each month was RSS traffic. Back in May, I decided to check out a new service called FeedBurner. It’s a service that will host your RSS feed for you, as well as provide you with some great readership statistics. In the past three months I’ve been using FeedBurner, here are some statistics for you:
- In April, 60% of my page views at my site were my RSS feeds. This represented nearly 1 gigabyte of bandwidth consumed. (About 30% of my traffic that month.)
- Today, FeedBurner updates my RSS feed only when I ping it to let it know I’ve updated; all requests for my RSS feed from subscribers are redirected to FeedBurner.com. Result? In August, just 3% of my page views were to my RSS feeds (all from FeedBurner.com) and the bandwidth consumed was almost nonexistent.
- Courtesy of FeedBurner, I know that I have approximately 400 people who subscribe to my RSS feeds (they can tell this by analyzing queries to my RSS feeds, applying known patterns of how often certain readers request files, etc.). Just based on raw numbers of accesses in the server logs, there is no simple way to discern this otherwise.
- FeedBurner also tells me how many click-throughs I have (people who click through from the RSS feed to read the post on my site); this helps identify what content is most interesting to readers.
- FeedBurner does some nice optimization of your feeds, tweaking the formatting of the feeds dynamically, so if FeedReader is pulling the feed, they might strip out some markup that they know FeedReader can’t handle. If NewsGator pulls it next, they’ll add in some functionality they know NewsGator can take. It’s very slick.
Bottom line: FeedBurner addresses the bandwidth consumption issue in a simple manner. They transfer all bandwidth consumption from you to them; the higher-traffic your site, the more dramatic the impact. In addition, you get some nice reporting on the readership of your feed, which help identify how your readers actually use your content. FeedBurner also addresses interoperability — if your aggregator supports only certain syndication formats (say, ATOM), FeedBurner can seamlessly address that by converting from one syndication format on the fly to another.